The Babadook: Worth The $7 I Spent To Rent, And That’s All


If you’re like me – a sucker for lists! – then you’ve probably already done a search for the best horror films of 2014.  And, unless your internet works differently than mine does, you have probably seen the Australian horror flick, The Babadook, not only included on every list you read, but hovering somewhere in the top five.

Seriously – I checked out six Best Horror of 2014 lists: The Babadook was in the top five in every single one.  Being a bit of a skeptic when it comes to trendy things such as films and music, I decided to rent the movie from last night and remarkably enough, I found time to watch it – all in one sitting!

(No small feat when you’re the father of three and it’s the holiday season!)

Here’s why I find the hype to be mildly misplaced.

The Plot

Meet Samuel.  Samuel is about as close to the antichrist as you’ll see in kids who are not actually possessed.  He is deeply afraid of monsters, makes his mother check under the bed and in the closet at every bedtime, and still finds his way into his mother’s bed every night, grinding his teeth in her ears and making it impossible for her to get any good shut-eye.  His behavior doesn’t improve when he leaves home, either, as he already has a rap sheet at his school – and he’s only in first grade.

Meet Amelia.  She is Samuel’s mother, and she is one more sleepless night away from losing her sanity.  She is still traumatized by the death of her husband, who was killed in an automobile accident while driving her to the hospital to give birth to Samuel.  When Samuel gets in trouble again at school for bringing a home-made weapon into the classroom, she decides to transfer her son to a new school, which means he will be spending more time with dear old mum – lucky her.

One night, during their normal book-before-bedtime ritual, Samuel finds a red book on the shelf called, Mr. Babadook.  Officially ranking as the creepiest pop-up book of all time, the book introduces the frightened boy and his frazzled mother to the Babadook, a frightening creature dressed all in black, with a top hat, obscenely long claws . . . and who may or not actually exist.  

If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.

Why it’s good . . . but not great.

I guess my first problem with calling this one of the best horror films of 2014 is that it’s not much of a horror film.  Sure, it has elements of horror – the Babadook certainly looks fearsome, and at times the film uses some conventions of the horror genre – but a movie has to do more than feature a monster in order to be qualified as horror.  Not to quibble, but this is much more of a drama than a horror film, as it shows Amelia falling apart due to the death of her husband and the stress of being a single parent to such a nightmare of a child.   While her descent into near-madness is harrowing and compelling – believe me, I was interested in the final outcome – this is not a particularly scary movie.  Tense, yes.  Horrifying, nay.

Perhaps my reluctance to classify it as a horror film is because NOTHING ACTUALLY HAPPENS.  There’s all sorts of potential for some pretty horrific stuff, and (spoiler alert!) if Amelia had actually succumbed to her unconscious desire to rid herself of her child, then the movie would have moved into the realm of horror.  There’s not many things more horrifying than the threat of a mother murdering her own child, but this movie doesn’t cross any lines.  It threatens to, but never fully embraces the darkness.  It’s not like I have a hard-and-fast rule about horror films having to reach a certain body count . . . but one dead dog doesn’t cut it.  From a horror standpoint, this movie is all build-up and no payoff – none.

It’s almost as if the writer and director, Jennifer Kent, wanted to straddle the line that separates psychological thrillers from actual horror stories.  I mean, for a while, you assume the Babadook is just a figment of Amelia’s fractured psyche, that she is simply breaking down from the stress and slowly going insane.  Even when she begins to see the creature, there is reason to doubt that it is real . . . and even by the end of the film, since even Samuel has not actually seen the monster, I assumed I had just watched a study of a woman fighting to retain her sanity.

And then Amelia brings a bowl of worms into the basement to feed the Babadook, at which point I wasn’t sure what the movie wanted me to think.  Is the Babadook still a figment of her imagination, a symbol of the grief and anguish caused by her husband’s death?  Or is the Babadook real, which would explain why the bowl of worms was pulled into the darkness and devoured – was Amelia’s love for her child enough to imprison this creature?


I’m not against abiguity in a movie – if Kent wants to believe that the Babadook is just a metaphor for how humans allow our unresolved fears and emotions to turn into monsters that destroy us, fine! – but there are parts of the movie in which the Babadook is clearly portrayed as being a real entity, making the metaphor argument murky at best.   Even the ending hints at a reality other than what we are actually seeing portrayed on the screen, but there is no concrete reason to think that the happy ending we are given is anything but real.


William Friedkin, the director of The Exorcist himself, said “I’ve never seen a more terrifying film than THE BABADOOK.”  I appreciate his attempt to promote the movie, but that statement is absolute nonsense, unless he has never seen an actual scary film before.  This film is a tense character study about a single mother who may or may not be bat-shit crazy, but it’s nowhere near as scary as it is being made out to be.

Having said that, I don’t doubt the Babadook is going to become a household name in the world of horror – it’s even got a short Christmas e-card!  Enjoy the trailer, and I encourage you to check out the movie for yourself and share your thoughts with me below!